Sunday, 23 June 2019

#ReadShortStories until you reach 100 (96–100)

...and then keep reading.

So this batch, which brings my yearly total of short stories up to 100, all come from the collection Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee. I had a lot of waiting time and it was just so easy to keep reading them. They are all on the sort side, although that is partly because I had previously read many of the longer stories in this collection.

Calendrical Rot by Yoon Ha Lee — Things get weird. Apparently this was almost the prologue to Ninefox Gambit, so it’s interesting to me that it works as a short story. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Birthdays by Yoon Ha Lee — Young Cheris and her family move out of their ghetto and have to give up some of their traditions. A nicely told flash story. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Sword-Shopping by Yoon Ha Lee — Cheris and her girlfriend go to buy a sword. A cute flash piece. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Persimmons by Yoon Ha Lee — A cute flash story about a servitor arrived at Kel Academy from a small village. Who doesn’t like sentient robot stories? Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Irriz the Assassin-Cat by Yoon Ha Lee — A cute flash featuring a cat soothing a child.  Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee


Friday, 21 June 2019

#ReadShortStories to stave off anxiety (91–95)

All flash in this batch. Not really intentionally, but that's how it turned out. I wasn't expecting the large number of flash stories in The Hexarchate Stories, which isn't a bad thing, but has lead me to read more of them in a row than I might have otherwise.


In The Spaces of Strangers by L P Lee — A little predictable, but not a bad flash piece about swapping bodies and predatory scams. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01578-9

Twenty-six Seconds on Tetonia-3 by Wendy Nikel — Easily the best flash piece I’ve read in Nature this year. Heartfelt and with good, developed worldbuilding. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01579-8

Silence by Yoon Ha Lee — A family interlude told from the point of view of Jedao’s older brother Rodao. A straightforwardly enjoyable read. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Gloves by Yoon Ha Lee — Pretty much smut, with a bit of character exploration thrown in. I can’t imagine the framing details working very well for someone who hadn’t read the series. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Hunting Trip by Yoon Ha Lee — A vignette featuring Jedao and a general stopping at a zoo en route to a hunting trip. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Friday, 14 June 2019

#ReadShortStories because you can't put a book down (82–90)

A longer batch today to avoid repeating the stories that appeared in my most recent review of The Manticore's Vow. The majority of these stories come from the same collection: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee, and are all set in the universe of the Machineries of Empire books (which start with Ninefox Gambit). I will try to mix up the next few batches so that it's not all stories set in the same world — especially since I still have some Hugo reading to finish off.


It’s All My Fault, Or The Beanstalk Sucks by Ian Randal Strock — Don’t think the story makes sense physically, but wasn’t that interesting in any case. Post-nuclear apocalypse followed by an experiment gone wrong. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01508-9

The Chameleon’s Gloves by Yoon Ha Lee — A fascinating story about a Kel outcast set before even the Heptarchate came into existence. And if that sentence made no sense, it’s a story about a thief given a job no one should have ever had to sign up for. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

How the Andan Court by Yoon Ha Lee — Flash/prose poem that I’ve read before.  Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam by Yoon Ha Lee — Longer flash musing on Liozh examinations, told from a relative future perspective, after the faction had fallen. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Omens by Yoon Ha Lee — A short story about a couple’s date, dripping with significance if you’re paying attention and have read the Hexarchate books. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Honesty by Yoon Ha Lee — A short story about very young Jedao and his even younger sister.  Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Bunny by Yoon Ha Lee — Another young Jedao and sister, this time dealing with a missing cat. A cute story. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Black Squirrels by Yoon Ha Lee — A hilarious story of a Shuos academy prank. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The Manticore's Vow and Other Stories by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Manticore's Vow and Other Stories by Cassandra Rose Clarke contains three short stories set in the world of The Assassin's Curse books, recently repackaged as The Magic of Blood and Sea. Although I have read both of the novels in this world, it was several years ago and my memory of them is quite hazy. This means that I was effectively coming to these stories from a stand-alone perspective.

A vain assassin takes an assignment with dire consequences. An aristocratic lady fleeing her past is besieged by pirates. And a manticore princess sets out on a life-changing adventure . . .

The Manticore’s Vow collects three stories set in the world of Magic of Blood and Sea, all exploring the origins of some of its most memorable characters: Naji, the scarred assassin, Marjani, the pirate queen, and Ongraygeeomryn, the man-eating manticore. Explore a world of dangerous magic and thrilling adventures with this trio of gorgeous, swashbuckling tales.

Overall, I found these stories stood alone fine, especially the first two. My favourite story was, without a doubt, “The Automaton’s Treasure”, which hooked me most quickly and kept my attention the best, even though there were times when very little was happening in the story (granted the boring parts of the long sea voyage were skipped over). For the other two stories, I didn’t connect with the protagonists as well and hence did not find myself especially invested in them. My thoughts on each story are given at the end of this review, as per usual.

This book works well as a companion to the longer works set in the same universe while also working alone well. In fact, I suspect a reader unfamiliar with the larger world might not immediately realise that the stories are connected to each other since they take place in different regions of the world. This collection serves as a sampler of the author’s work, but not exactly a good introduction to the novels, since they are about tangential characters. I think it will appeal most to readers who want more from the world after having read the novels.

~

The Manticore’s Vow — Narrated in first person by a manticore, this story follows a young manticore, her human servant and some friends as she misadventures in her father’s kingdom. I enjoyed it well enough, particularly towards the end of the story.

The Automaton’s Treasure — A sea voyage interrupted by pirates and a sentient automaton made this story quite the exciting adventure. I enjoyed it more than the first story in its collection.

The Witch’s Betrayal — An assassin with a difficult kill and an obstruction from someone he had considered a friend. It was OK but nothing special. I think the most strongly linked to the novels in the same world (based on my vague memories).

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2019, Interstellar Flight Press
Series: Same world as The Assassin's Curse books / The Magic of Blood and Sea
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Monday, 10 June 2019

#ReadShortStories all over the place (76–80)

I'm still making my way through the Hugo Novelette shortlist, as evidenced by only one of those novelettes appearing in this batch of reading. I also started a new collection: The Manticore's Vow by Cassandra Rose Clarke. It's very short — only three stories — so expect to see either the rest of the stories soon or the review of the whole thing imminently.

It is almost interesting to note that all five stories in this batch came from different sources. (Although I put in the Uncanny link for the Aliette de Bodard story, I actually got it from the Hugo voter packet.) Unfortunately Emma Newman's story is currently not accessible to people who don't subscribe to her newsletter, but she has promised that the stories will be collected together in a book eventually.



Remember by A J Lee — An OK flash piece. A predictable twist and an insufficiently dramatic ending, perhaps. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01507-w

What Travis Built by Emma Newman — A short piece filling in an off-page moment set after After Atlas. A sweet vignette about the romantic relationship between two characters and also a farm-sim game. Source: Emma Newman’s newsletter

The Thing About Ghost Stories by Naomi Kritzer — The story opens like a nonfiction essay but then settles into the lived experience of the narrator, who is a ghost-story collecting anthropologist. As well as discussing different types of ghost stories, the story gives us a glimpse into the narrators life with her ageing mother. I quite enjoy this story, for its discussion of ghost stories as well as the main story. I guess I had enough of a scientist to enjoy such categorisations. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-thing-about-ghost-stories/

The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard — A story of racial tensions arising from one group destroying the planet of another (well, rendering it uninhabitable). I liked both the idea and the execution. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-dragon-that-flew-out-of-the-sun/

The Manticore’s Vow by Cassandra Rose Clarke — Narrated in first person by a manticore, this story follows a young manticore, her human servant and some friends as she misadventures in her father’s kingdom. I enjoyed it well enough, particularly towards the end of the story. Source: The Manticore’s Vow By Cassandra Rose Clarke

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey is an urban fantasy book about a PI investigating a suspicious death at a magical boarding school in the US. I had previously read Gailey's novellas about hippos in an alternate American South (and upsetting violence against said hippos), but this is her debut novel.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

This book starts in a typical urban fantasy investigator way, with Ivy, the protagonist, being given an interesting case to solve. What makes the case unusual for Ivy is that it involves a magical boarding school, when she has always lived in the non-magical world we are all familiar with. In fact, the only reason Ivy is already aware of the existence of magic is because her twin sister has magical powers and went away to a (different) magical boarding school when they were in high school. As a reader, what I found a bit unusual about this book was seeing a boarding school from an adult outsider's perspective, which I don't think I've come across before.

As well as trying to solve the murder, Ivy finds herself mixed up with some slightly strange teenagers, a hot teacher and having emotionally complicated conversations with her estranged sister, who is now a teacher at the school where the murder occurred. I found the setting added a point of interest to what was otherwise not a terribly unusual story — although I will say that some of the magic that comes up is a bit more uncommon, overall. It also explored how magical solutions could be applied to typical teenage problems in a way that wasn't explored in the obvious example of Harry Potter. For example, magical contraception and abortion get a look in, at one point. (Because of course that would be a problem that came up in a co-ed boarding situation.)

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to. I was hesitant to read it because of the hippo thing, but I was assured no hippos appeared or were harmed in it, which was indeed the case. It's a fairly different tone and setting to the River of Teeth world, so I don't recommend deciding whether to read it based on that. If the idea of a PI set loose on a magical school appeals to you, then I highly recommend giving this book a go.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2018, Tor
Series: I don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Hugo Novella Roundup

I was in the fortunate position of having read almost all of the Hugo shortlisted novellas before the list of nominees on the ballot was announced. This meant that I didn't have much reading to do before writing this round-up, but on the other hand, some of the shortlisted books have faded a bit in my memory, since I read most of them very close to the release dates. So ranking these novellas, all of which I enjoyed, is going to be a bit tricky.

Before I get to the novellas, if this is the first of my Hugo round-ups that you're seeing, you might be interested in my round-up of Hugo shortlisted short stories, which I prepared earlier. Discussions of (some of) the other categories to come!

The full Hugo shortlist with links to my review of each novella is below, if you want to quickly scroll down to have a look at it. The list is in no particular order — I think I grabbed it from Tor.com — because it's quite tricky to rank these novellas, for a few reasons. Artificial Condition and Binti: The Night Masquerade are, respectively, a middle and final part of larger stories. Even though I very much like those stories (Murderbot 5eva), I'm not sure they work very well as standalone novellas, which they should for this award, in my opinion. In contrast, Beneath the Sugar Sky and The Tea Master and the Detective are both parts of ongoing series but stand alone perfectly well. Beneath the Sugar Sky has some characters recur from earlier novellas in the series, but is a fully self-contained story. The Tea Master and the Detective may have direct sequels or companion novellas in the future, but for the moment it is merely set in the same universe as many of the author's other stories (the overall series is also nominated for a Best Series Hugo Award). That leaves Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach and The Black God's Drums as completely independent and self-contained stories (or at worst, self-contained first books in series, but I'm not sure on that last point).

But which book did I like best? It's currently a three-way tie between Beneath the Sugar Sky, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, and The Tea Master and the Detective. Right now I'm leaning towards putting Beneath the Sugar Sky first, then tossing a coin for second and third, and for the remaining places. Once again, this is a very strong ballot and I wouldn't be disappointed by any of these novellas taking home the rocket trophy.


Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press / JABberwocky Literary Agency)





Sunday, 2 June 2019

Algorithmic Shapeshifting by Bogi Takács

Algorithmic Shapeshifting by Bogi Takács is a collection of mostly speculative poems. I'm not a big reader of poetry, but I have mostly enjoyed, for example, the poems that appear in Uncanny Magazine. Since I also enjoy Takács's writing, this seemed like a good place to start reading more poetry.

Algorithmic Shapeshifting is the first poetry collection of Bogi Takács, winner of the Lambda award for editing Transcendent 2: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, and finalist for the Hugo and Locus awards. Algorithmic Shapeshifting includes poems from the past decade and previously unpublished work. The scope of the pieces extends from the present and past of Jewish life in Hungary and the United States to the far-future, outer-space reaches of the speculative—always with a sense of curiosity and wonder.

There is a variety of poems contained in this collection, from very short to longer works and written in different styles. Some are more narrative and some more abstract. A lot of them tell a story, although a few (fewer than I expected, to be honest) went over my head. Some were very sweet love poems, some were chilling dystopian tales. Most tended towards the science fictional or the fantastical, which definitely appealed to me. Several poems engaged with Jewish themes in various ways. A few were less conventional (I think that's the right description) such as "The Tiny English-Hungarian Phrasebook for Visiting Extraterrestrials" which told a story in a clever way, and "The Oracle of DARPA", which was an amusing poem in the form of an interview between DARPA trying to build a weapon and an oracle giving oblique answers and unexpected side effects.

With short story collections and anthologies I usually include comments on each story unless it's flash fiction. I didn't think that would work for me with poems, so instead I'm just going to discuss/react to some of the poems that stood out for me. I was expecting "A User Guide to the Application of Gem-Flowers" to be horrific rather than wholesome. I was wrong. "Trans Love Is" was very sweet, as were a few other love poems I didn't explicitly mark out. "Periodicity" and "Flee to Far Shores" were both about leaving bad political situations and migration; I found them quite meaningful. I found the sort-of-reveal at the end of "The Third Extension" quite satisfying. "A Hail of Pebbles and Dust" was particularly science fictional, about a tidally locked planet. I liked the way "The Size of a Barleycorn, Encased in Lead" engaged with the idea of time-proof sign-posting (for nuclear waste). "Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments" told a nice story in several verses spread across time, about completing commandments in different lives.

Finally, I want to mention that I had a review copy of the ebook and there were a few typographical notes in there about how the ebook differs in presentation from the original, intended form. One poem ought to have had two verses printed on opposite sides of a double page spread. Another was originally published in an animated form online and, although there description prefacing it was quite accurate, I didn't fully understand the point until I clicked through to see the original version. It's interesting, given these two examples, that neither the ebook or the paper book can be truely said to be the definitive version of the entire collection. I kind of like the idea of there no being one true version...

If you are a fan of poetry or Takács's writing more generally, then I heartily recommend this collection. I am far from being an expert in speculative poetry, but I enjoyed it a lot and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others who are also interested in reading more speculative poetry (perhaps in between their speculative fiction).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Aqueduct Press
Series: Not in the usual sense
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson is a novella set in a post climate-collapse world, with a few other apocalypses thrown in. I did not realise, before I started reading, that it was science fiction. Possibly that’s because I didn’t read the blurb properly (or at all — I don’t remember), but I think it’s mainly that the cover didn’t strike me as obviously science fiction rather than fantasy. As a result, since I’ve been more in the mood for SF than F of late, I didn’t pick it up when I first saw it and have come to it now because it was shortlisted for a Hugo Award.

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity's ancestral habitat. She's spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

I enjoyed this novella. It touches on a lot of different ideas and concepts that interest me. The characters are working to rebuild the surface of the Earth after severe ecological collapse and various other disasters have plagued humanity in the meantime, including a plague which lead to the main protagonist having prosthetic (tentacle) legs. It also touches on bodily autonomy and the morality of interacting negatively with people in the past if the timeline is erased when you leave (or is it?). While all these issues are interesting, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is still only a novella in length, so the issues aren't delved into in as much depth as they could be.

Before I finished reading, when I mentioned that I was part-way through this book, some people mentioned that they'd liked the book but not the ending, which made me a bit apprehensive. I bring it up because what I expected from their completely spoiler-free reactions was not at all what I got. In short, the ending was a little abrupt, which was slightly disappointing because I wanted to see more of what happened with the characters, but I thought it made sense in the context of the book. Actually, my main criticism is the way in which the rules of time travel remain a bit vague. One character tells the others what they are, but the other characters remain sceptical about some of them, so we, the reader, aren't sure whether to believe him either. Other aspects of the worldbuilding were more detailed, which I liked, but the uncertainty surrounding the time travel bothered me. Not enough to dislike the book, just enough to feel unsure about some of the resolution.

Overall, however, this was an entertaining read and I recommend it to fans of mid-future SF, climate apocalypse fiction, and also time travel stories. It's Hugo shortlisted is well-earned and I will be having trouble ranking it among the other novellas.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2018, Tor.com
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: Hugo Voter Packet

Thursday, 23 May 2019

#ReadShortStories in context (71–75)

In this batch I finished off the fiction in Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, the special edition of Uncanny, and caught up on a couple of Nature Futureses.

I want to briefly talk about a a short story in DPDSF which I read a while ago, “A House by the Sea” by P. H. Lee. When I read it, I did not realise it was from that particular issue of Uncanny because, for whatever reason (probably Twitter) it was presented to be without context. At that time, I didn't really "get" the story, because of said lack of context. When I came across it more recently, within DPDSF, I immediately recognised it when I started reading and, more importantly, the story suddenly made perfect sense. I had initially suspected that it was about disabled people, but now I had firm context to that effect. Does that mean it's a less good story if it isn't guaranteed to work without that context? I'm not sure, but I suspect a few of the stories in this particular issue of Uncanny fall into the same category of making more sense within their intended context. Is this ultimately a good or bad (or neutral) thing? What do you think?


This Will Not Happen to You by Marissa Lingen — I liked this one. A story about the frustrations of being diagnosed (too late) when chronically ill. Presented in a somewhat sarcastic tone to someone (sort of) who thinks these things only happen to other people. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/this-will-not-happen-to-you/

By Degrees and Dilatory Time by SL Huang — A thoughtful read about a man getting artificial eyes after a cancer diagnosis. It’s entered mainly on his feelings and sense of self. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/by-degrees-and-dilatory-time/

Listen by Karin Tidbeck — Another enjoyable story, this one a bit more alien in that it literally involves interactions between planets and different types of people. A neuroatypical protagonist is translator for aliens whose speech other people cannot remember after they have heard. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/listen/

Without Access by Deborah Walker — Flash, kind of interesting world building but a blatant premise. Unsubtly about internet/social media addicts but also with aliens. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01316-1

Brick City by Robert S Wilson — Not a bad flash piece, charting the end of life and eventual fate of an obsolete android. I found the ending appropriate but was a bit confused by the intended emotional resonance. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01429-7

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a short novella about a woman imprisoned in a cave system on an alien planet. Or so it starts. She does not fully remember who she is or what her crime was, but at least she is not alone. Her fellow prisoner seems to know more than she does but is reluctant to divulge the information.

All Bee has ever known is darkness.

She doesn’t remember the crime she committed that landed her in the cold, twisting caverns of the prison planet Colel-Cab with only fellow prisoner Chela for company. Chela says that they’re telepaths and mass-murderers; that they belong here, too dangerous to ever be free. Bee has no reason to doubt her—until she hears the voice of another telepath, one who has answers, and can open her eyes to an entirely different truth.

This novella grabbed me straight away. Even though it is not very clear at first what's happening, I was drawn in my my desire to find out more about the world. I wasn't expecting the story to be about telepaths (probably because I don't pay overly much attention to blurbs), but it played out more interestingly than I would have expected. On the one hand, the plight of telepaths in this future world is central to the story since it's closely bound with the reasons for Bee's imprisonment. On the other hand, the actual conflict is backgrounded with the main focus being on Bee's personal struggle. In a society at war, we are presented with a very stark example of the personal being political.

I don't think I can say much more without spoiling the story, but I found it consistently very readable. The setting and story was a bit unusual, and at the same time the personal journey was very unexceptional in the context of fiction (aside from the parts that were). I recommend Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water to fans of soft science fiction/science fantasy — there's no avoiding the telepathy aspect of the story — and to any readers interested in personal stories with political backdrops.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Tor.com
Series: Don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 19 May 2019

New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl is, like it says on the cover, an anthology of original speculative fiction by people of colour. Aside from that commonality, there is quite a diverse group of stories contained within. On the one hand, this means there should be a story for every type of speculative fiction reader, but perhaps that not every story will work for every reader.

Anthology of contemporary stories by emerging and seasoned writers of many races

There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns,” proclaimed Octavia E Butler.

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clichés, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

Unexpected brilliance shines forth from every page.

I found this anthology to be quite the mixed bag. There were some cute stories, some dark stories, some stories dealing with very interesting ideas, some that I didn't feel I "got" but that I'm sure will be meaningful for other readers. As such, I'm finding it hard to have an opinion on the anthology as a whole. As usual, I recorded my thoughts on each story as I read it — and you can find these below — but an overall impression is difficult. I also ended up reading New Suns over a long period of time, which doesn't help.

A few of the stories which stand out for me are:

  • "The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations" by Minsoo Kang, which was based on a delightful premise. It wasn't the easiest read, but absolutely worth putting the effort in for.
  • "The Freedom of the Shifting Sea" by Jaymee Goh was a meatier read than some of the others and featured a memorable cross-species romance.
  • "One Easy Trick" by Hiromi Goto was cute and entertaining.
The above is not an exhaustive list, so I do encourage you to read the mini-reviews below if you haven't already.

Overall, New Suns is an anthology filled with diverse perspectives and written by diverse authors. If you are looking to branch out a bit in your short story reading and try some new authors, this would be a good place to start. 


~

The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex, Tobias Buckell — What if a lot of different aliens all decided that Earth was a perfect tourist destination? Find out how mere humans live on the edges of a society that mainly relies on tourist income to Manhattan. Interesting parallels as well as interesting aliens.

Deer Dancer, Kathleen Alcalá — A story about a collective living arrangement in some sort of post-apocalyptic future (climate change I think). It was mostly slice-of-life, interesting but lost me a bit towards the end.

The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations, Minsoo Kang — I originally started reading this story on the second of two long-haul flights and it transpired that I was far too tired to take the story in. When I restarted it later, better rested, I realised I had had no idea what it was about from the first attempt. It doesn’t help that it’s written in a very dry style, in the manner of a non-fictional historical essay, and that the story itself emerges gradually. Once established, it was a very interesting and amusing read, if not exactly an exciting one.

Come Home to Atropos, Steven Barnes — Told in the form of a horrifyingly unsubtle infomercial, this story is about assisted dying and euthanasia tourism. The overtones of historic and modern slavery seemed a bit gauche for an infomercial but certainly added to the plausibility of the story overall. (Also, the story was more a a take on racism than an interrogation of the concept of assisted dying.)

The Fine Print, Chinelo Onwualu — The premise of the story was a bit unpleasant (from a feminist point of view) and I didn’t feel the story itself really made up for that, despite acknowledging it. The writing was fine but I didn’t really enjoy the plot.

unkind of mercy, Alex Jennings — A slightly creepy story. It reminded me of the episode of Doctor Who with the ghost angels that was part of the Tenth Doctor’s last season finale. With a very different ending, of course.

Burn the Ships, Alberto Yáñez — A story of conquerors from the east colonising an empire in southern America. There is oppression and slaughter and vengeful magic. I think the setting is an alternate world rather than a precisely real historic setting. It was a longer story and featured culture that I have not come across too frequently in stories.

The Freedom of the Shifting Sea, Jaymee Goh — One of my favourite stories in the collection. A multigenerational epic featuring a mermaid/mermillipede (any description from me isn’t going to do her justice, I suggest just reading the story). I liked the twist on the traditional mermaid idea and the way the story spanned many years, in bursts.

Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire, E. Lily Yu — As the title says, variations on the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. It adds to the obvious take and was written in a very readable voice.

Blood and Bells, Karin Lowachee — This story was a slog to get into and I ended up setting it aside for quite a while. When I came back to it and read further it was more interesting (to see the actual plot develop). Gang warfare and a father trying to protect his kid in the middle of a murder investigation.

Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister, Silvia Moreno-Garcia — An enticing story about a witch living in a city and attempting to lead a normal life. I enjoyed the time and writing style especially.

The Shadow We Cast Through Time, Indrapramit Das — A dark and fantastical take of a far future but lowish-tech colony on some alien planet. The story evoked a compelling mood, but I found it a bit too slow to draw me in effectively, for all that it was interesting during sufficiently long bursts of reading.

The Robots of Eden, Anil Menon — A dystopian/utopian future in which most affluent people have implants that regulate their emotions and protect them from life’s emotional struggles. I was quite intrigued by the story of a banker dealing exceptionally well with divorce and even befriending his ex wife’s new husband, with the dark realities of the world lurking beneath the surface.

Dumb House, Andrea Hairston — A bit of a slice of life story set in a dystopian rural US. A woman living in a “dumb house” fends off salesmen trying to upgrade her to a smart house. The character development was interesting but I felt that a bit more of the worldbuilding details could have been included; some aspects were clear, some foggy.

One Easy Trick, Hiromi Goto — A cute story about a woman, her belly fat, and a forest. I quite enjoyed it and found it a bit unexpected, in a good way.

Harvest, Rebecca Roanhorse — A kind of creepy story. I found aspects of the ending a little too ambiguous but, nevertheless, it was well written.

Kelsey and the Burdened Breath, Darcie Little Badger — A bit of a mystery but mostly a ghost story. I enjoyed the mythology of it and wouldn’t have minded a longer/meatier story.


3.5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2019, Rebellion Publishing
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 17 May 2019

#ReadShortStories and travel in mind as well as body (66–70)

As I mentioned in the last batch, I decided to make a concerted effort to finish New Suns after having neglected it for a little while. Once I did that (the last few stories were enjoyable, I had just stalled after one or two stories I didn't enjoy in the middle-ish of the anthology), I moved on to making my way through Uncanny's special issue Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. That's where the latter stories in this batch have come from.

One Easy Trick by Hiromi Goto — A cute story about a woman, her belly fat, and a forest. I quite enjoyed it and found it a bit unexpected, in a good way.  Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Harvest by Rebecca Roanhorse — A kind of creepy story. I found aspects of the ending a little too ambiguous but, nevertheless, it was well written. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Kelsey and the Burdened Breath by Darcie Little Badger — A bit of a mystery but mostly a ghost story. I enjoyed the mythology of it and wouldn’t have minded a longer/meatier story. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Abigail Dreams of Weather by Stu West — Cancer kids (or similar) living on a space station during a meteor shower. A cool scene-setting story, although there wasn’t very much to it beyond the worldbuilding. Also opened with a lot of vomit, which I could have lived without.  Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/abigail-dreams-of-weather/

Disconnect by Fran Wilde — This story was about a woman with wandering joints (literally they seem to disappear and reappear in space) who is also a physics lecturer (well, adjunct, since it’s set in the US). Since I have stupid joints and am an astrophysicist, it seemed like I should have enjoyed this story. Alas, instead I got the very strong feeling that the author only had a passing knowledge of physics at best, which was very frustrating. Ultimately, this story did not work for me at all.  Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/disconnect/




Wednesday, 15 May 2019

#ReadShortStories on trains in other countries (61–65)

This batch starts off with a bit of randomness, but then I started on a concerted effort to finish off New Suns (which is a few more stories beyond those shown here). It helped that I did a bit of recreational travelling and actually had time to read without worrying about work stuff. (I didn't get much reading done on my last trip, partly because it was for work and partly because I had a lot of deadlines around the same time, so this was a nice change.)


The Fast Stuff by George Zebrowski — A surprisingly incoherent story that felt like a bit of a slog despite being flash (really, it’s one page, I should not have gotten bored) and despite the author’s noted accolades (not that I’d heard of him before). A pilot yearns to fly impossibly fast. (And then he does, because aliens.) Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01180-z

Act of Kindness by Emma Newman — A nice little Planetfall universe vignette. Showing another character’s point of view during a scene from After Atlas. Source: Emma Newman’s newsletter

Gulliver at Home by Anatoly Belilovsky — Flash concerning aliens and astronauts, written in a more interesting way than I might have expected. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01249-9

The Robots of Eden by Anil Menon — A dystopian/utopian future in which most affluent people have implants that regulate their emotions and protect them from life’s emotional struggles. I was quite intrigued by the story of a banker dealing exceptionally well with divorce and even befriending his ex wife’s new husband, with the dark realities of the world lurking beneath the surface. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Dumb House by Andrea Hairston — A bit of a slice of life story set in a dystopian rural US. A woman living in a “dumb house” fends off salesmen trying to upgrade her to a smart house. The character development was interesting but I felt that a bit more of the worldbuilding details could have been included; some aspects were clear, some foggy. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl


Friday, 10 May 2019

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a standalone novella centred around a “big dumb object” in a science fictional sense. I haven’t read any of the author’s novels, but apparently did read his novella in Monstrous Little Voices, which was not very memorable. I think Walking to Aldebaran is a definite improvement on memorability, if nothing else.

My name is Gary Rendell. I’m an astronaut. When they asked me as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “astronaut, please!” I dreamed astronaut, I worked astronaut, I studied astronaut.

I got lucky; when a probe sent out to explore the Oort Cloud found a strange alien rock and an international team of scientists was put together to go and look at it, I made the draw.

I got even luckier. When disaster hit and our team was split up, scattered through the endless cold tunnels, I somehow survived.

Now I’m lost, and alone, and scared, and there’s something horrible in here.

Lucky me.

Lucky, lucky, lucky.

This book starts a little slowly with our first person protagonist walking through crypt-like passages in space. We get a feel for the crypts and the backstory is slowly meted out over the course of the novella. At one point I started to wonder whether there would be much plot to it or whether we would just a description of the space-bending alien artefact from the inside. But then we get some fresh hints about backstory still to come and the plot progresses. By the end, I found myself enjoying the book more than I expected to.

We get a reasonably detailed description of the crypts and the weird physics inside them. We get enough backstory to understand why the astronauts went there and (eventually) why Gary ends up alone. There was a reveal that came right after I thought “wait, was that <spoiler redacted>?” But another similar thought was not followed up my confirmation either way, since it’s not something Gary could have known and was not in a position to guess. Things like that open the text up for a lot more discussion and speculation than I would have expected, making this all the more satisfying a read.

Overall, Walking to Aldebaran was an interesting read, exploring a nifty alien artefact. Where it shines is towards the end, where the true story is revealed and we see Gary’s journey as a whole. I found myself pleasantly surprised although I wasn’t bored by the first half of the book either. I recommend Walking to Aldebaran to fans of philosophical science fiction or fans of big dumb objects.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Rebellion
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley

Monday, 6 May 2019

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire is a standalone novel set in a world similar to the real world, but bursting with alchemy. As far as I’m aware, it is not linked to any of McGuire’s other books or series.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

The opening of this book grabbed me immediately with the in media res working particularly well thanks to the unusual timeline structure of the book. While we do get a lot of the main story in chronological order, it is interspersed with bits that come out of order, as well as the point of view sections of the antagonist and a thematically-linked children’s fairytale. Overall it makes for an interesting reading experience. That said, I did feel like the book dragged a little in the middle and to me it felt quite long, which is the worst thing I can say about it. (Note, also, that it is objectively on the long side, but it still should not have felt that way.)

Back to the content, this is a story of alchemically created twins, separated by the length and breadth of the USA, and left to grow up in isolation. They were created to channel immense power for their maker but a lot of their upbringing was left to chance. We follow them through their lives as they learn about each other, push each other away, meet by chance, push each other away and so forth. At first I found the story a little confusing — while the start grabbed me, it took a little while to fully understand what was happening. Then I grew more invested in the characters and wanted to know what would happen next, despite the slower middle section. The climax came not a page too late, to kick off the last portion of the book.

This is a dark fantasy book, shading to the horrific, that I expect fans of McGuire’s other books will enjoy. In general tone I found it most similar to the Wayward Children books, although the story structure (and length) was quite different. It’s certainly not science fiction horror like the Mira Grant books are, though this was not immediately apparent to me when I started reading. All in all, a structurally interesting read that I recommend to fans of dark fantasy.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Tor.com
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Hugo Short Story Round-up

Those of you who have been following along with my blog and my #ReadShortStories posts will have seen my mini-reviews of the Hugo-nominated short stories as I read them. But I did not read them in a group, so I am collecting them here together in a single blog post.

I found this to be a strong category and there were no stories I actively disliked. "STET" is definitely the story I have the most mixed feelings about, and that is mainly due to its structure, which is also sort of the point. The ranking of the rest of the stories felt a lot more subjective to me; none of the stories stood out as especially better or worse than the others and my ordering of time comes down to personal preference more than anything else. So, although the voting is not yet open, I include the stories and my mini reviews of them in the order I expect I will put them on my ballot. Although I reserve the right to change my mind, especially if I end up engaging in some interesting discussions about them that change my mind.

If you've already read the stories, what's your opinion of them? How much do you disagree with my ranking?

(Story title links below go to where they can be freely read online.)


The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander — I found this dinosaur-esque fairytale very entertaining. I even laughed a few times. From the chatter in the podcast around it, I gather the rest of the Uncanny dinosaur issue, which I haven’t read, is set in a shared world. But this story absolutely stood alone. It also wasn’t what I expected, since it also contained humans, not just raptors. And a witch. Anyway, very entertaining.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow — A lovely story about a witchy librarian, who just wants to help her patrons, and one patron in particular who hasn’t been dealt the best hand by fate. I quite enjoyed it.

"The Court Magician" by Sarah Pinsker — An unexpected but interesting story about a poor boy, street magic and the more powerful real magic he eventually learns about. I liked it.

"The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington" by P. Djèlí Clark — A story told in nine snippets pertaining to the lives of nine black slaves, set in a parallel world where magic and magical creatures exist. It was an interesting read, but felt a little long because of its structure.

"The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society" by T. Kingfisher — An amusing story about the tables turning on a group of fairies who usually get their way and enjoy leaving humans to pine after them. Short and sweet.

STET” by Sarah Gailey — Hands down, the most interesting thing about this story is the form in  which it’s presented. The actual story is sad and all, but I do think the impact is lessened by the format. An interesting experiment but I didn’t feel as drawn into the story as I would a more conventional narrative, though it was still heartbreaking.




Sunday, 28 April 2019

#ReadShortStories, even if only because they're Hugo shortlisted (56–60)

I spent some of my weekend making a push on the Hugo ballot and the last three stories in this batch are the result. I've now finished the short story ballot, so a comparison of all the Hugo short story nominees will be coming soon. Stay tuned.



The Shadow We Cast Through Time by Indrapramit Das — A dark and fantastical take of a far future but lowish-tech colony on some alien planet. The story evoked a compelling mood, but I found it a bit too slow to draw me in effectively, for all that it was interesting during sufficiently long bursts of reading. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

A Billion Dots of Light by Matt Thompson — Flash about a very dehumanised pod-generation ship. Pretty horrifying and with a bit of a clichéd ending. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01105-w

The Court Magician  by Sarah Pinsker — An unexpected but interesting story about a poor boy, street magic and the more powerful real magic he eventually learns about. I liked it. Source: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-court-magician

Nine Last Days on Planet Earth by Daryl Gregory — The story was OK but I found it a bit old fashioned. I’m also not sure that the title made sense in the end with the direction the story took, but I don’t want to spoil it by explaining. I was weirded out by how often the (gay!) protagonist described how beautiful his mother was. That was super weird, and only got more so with repetition. Overall, the science parts with the apocalypse were interesting, the rest was fine. Source: https://www.tor.com/2018/09/19/nine-last-days-on-planet-earth-daryl-gregory/

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander — I found this dinosaur-esque fairytale very entertaining. I even laughed a few times. From the chatter in the podcast around it, I gather the rest of the Uncanny dinosaur issue, which I haven’t read, is set in a shared world. But this story absolutely stood alone. It also wasn’t what I expected, since it also contained humans, not just raptors. And a witch. Anyway, very entertaining. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-tale-of-the-three-beautiful-raptor-sisters-and-the-prince-who-was-made-of-meat/


Monday, 22 April 2019

The Disasters by M K England

The Disasters by M K England is a YA space adventure story, in which a group of teens are the only hope for most of humanity. It was mostly a fun read, but there were some physics issues that I found quite distracting.

Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.

But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.

On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.

They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.

In many ways this was a fun book. The characters were entertaining and diverse which was fairly refreshing to read. The narrating character, Nax, ends up being the de facto leader of the little team and being inside his head wasn't terrible. It was a good mix of uncertainty, some silly teenage stuff and world-saving plans.

The worldbuilding of this future was based on some sort of magically fast jump drives (that weren't described in detail), which allowed for the colonisation of several habitable planets spread around the galaxy. A bit confusingly, the law is that once someone leaves Earth they can never come back to the planet. The closest they can get is in orbit if they want to talk to their loved ones over live video chat. This wasn't really explained in depth and, while it seems like the kind of thing that might be subverted in this sort of book, it was not. A little baffling, overall.

The biggest problem I had with this book, however, was the complete disregard for the laws of physics. Starting with the part where the space ships had rudders (overall, they behaved a little too much like planes, even when they were in vacuum). There was just so much that didn't make sense on that front that I couldn't ignore it and I couldn't enjoy the book. Every action scene generated a lot of "WTF" for me. Very disappointing. Perhaps if the book overall had been a little bit tighter and faster-paced, I could have ignored more of the physics gaffes. But as it was, I did not enjoy The Disasters and dragged out my reading of it because I just wasn't keen to get back to it. Alas.

So I would recommend this to fans of YA and action adventures in space, but the physics was appalling and I can't recommend it on that front. Obviously, that's not something that will bother everyone, but since it's a YA book and potentially influencing the understanding of space and physics in young minds, I cannot approve.

3 / 5 stars

First published: 2018, HarperCollins
Series: I don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 19 April 2019

#ReadShortStories for whatever reasons (51–55)



Some miscellaneous reading in this batch, somewhat driven by the Hugo shortlist. I will also be posting Hugo roundups by category once I get through an entire category. I am close to finishing short stories, but I am waiting for the Hugo packet for novellas and longer.


The Madness of Memory by Kameron Hurley — On a world with two races, not only the slave race is enslaved. But there are other problems for the ruling species. A thought provoking read with an expected resolution to an unexpected problem. Source: Kameron Hurley’s Patreon

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark — A story told in nine snippets pertaining to the lives of nine black slaves, set in a parallel world where magic and magical creatures exist. It was an interesting read, but felt a little long/slow because of its structure. Source: https://firesidefiction.com/the-secret-lives-of-the-nine-negro-teeth-of-george-washington

STET by Sarah Gailey — Hands down, the most interesting thing about this story is the form in which it’s presented. The actual story is sad and all, but I do think the impact is lessened by the format. An interesting experiment but I didn’t feel as drawn into the story as I would a more conventional narrative, though it was still heartbreaking. Source: https://firesidefiction.com/stet

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow — A lovely story about a witchy librarian, who just wants to help her patrons, and one patron in particular who hasn’t been dealt the best hand by fate. I quite enjoyed it. Source: https://www.apex-magazine.com/a-witchs-guide-to-escape-a-practical-compendium-of-portal-fantasies

Amped Life by John Cooper Hamilton — Creepy and sort of funny flash piece about astronauts kept awake for maximum productivity with pills. I liked the twist. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01042-8

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Atlas Alone by Emma Newman

Atlas Alone by Emma Newman is the latest standalone novel set in the Planetfall universe. In some ways it makes most sense as an almost-direct sequel to After Atlas, but it certainly stands alone just fine. There is a new protagonist, who did appear in After Atlas but whom I have very little memory of from that book. In fact, After Atlas is the book I remember least of the series (not entirely sure why) and despite that I had no problems getting into Atlas Alone. It does contain a pretty major spoiler for events that happen at the end of After Atlas and near the end of Before Mars, however, so beware on that front. That massive spoiler is also in the blurb below.

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.

This was an excellent book and different again from the earlier books in the series. The new protagonist, Dee, did show up in After Atlas and the events of that book are why she is now on an American-built starship following the Pathfinder on a twenty-year journey to another planet. What does one do to kill time on a space ship? Play lots of full-immersion games and try to get an idea of who else is on the ship. Then get an invite to a leet gaming server, get suspicious of the people on board and strike up a conversation with a game designer who does not respect personal boundaries.

At first I was surprised at how much of this story took place in immersive games, especially when I also realised how far I had gotten in terms of pages read. But then the true story became clear and turned out to not be quite what I had expected. (Trying not to spoil here.) Although I very much guessed something that wasn't revealed to the main character for some time, the story took a lot of unexpected turns, right up to the dramatic and powerful ending (which only caused me to loose a little sleep, thanks to the timing of when I got up to it). Overall, Atlas Alone was a remarkable book in what has been a remarkable series.

As I said in my preamble, Atlas Alone does follow most directly from After Atlas, and the other books in the series aren't required reading. But they are all excellent and I don't think reading them in publication order is a bad thing either. Also, I think After Atlas is the most depressing book (for all that I don't remember it too clearly) while I found the others more enjoyable reading. Don't get me wrong, this isn't exactly a "fun" series. It deals with some heavy issues, most notably death and mental illness. I laughed aloud a few times reading Atlas Alone, but that was more at sarcasm or outrageous developments than actual humour. None of which stops me from loving this series.

To reiterate, this continues to be an excellent series and I hope it gets some more recognition, preferably in the form of a Hugo nomination for Best Series (hint to Worldcon members who are eligible to nominate). I look forward to more Planetfall novels in the future. They have all had very different but deeply psychological takes on their protagonists and I would love to read more.

5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2019, Gollancz
Series: Planetfall, book 4 of 4 so far but sort of a direct sequel to After Atlas
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan is a standalone science fiction novella from Tor.com. The combination of author I like and imprint of consistently good novellas meant that I was definitely going to read this at some point. Happily I got an early copy, so I can share this review just before release.

Greg Egan's Perihelion Summer is a story of people struggling to adapt to a suddenly alien environment, and the friendships and alliances they forge as they try to find their way in a world where the old maps have lost their meaning.

Taraxippus is coming: a black hole one tenth the mass of the sun is about to enter the solar system.

Matt and his friends are taking no chances. They board a mobile aquaculture rig, the Mandjet, self-sustaining in food, power and fresh water, and decide to sit out the encounter off-shore. As Taraxippus draws nearer, new observations throw the original predictions for its trajectory into doubt, and by the time it leaves the solar system, the conditions of life across the globe will be changed forever.

The premise of this book is a fairly technical apocalypse, involving black holes. There are some maths and physics details near the start, but it’s not opaquely technical, in my opinion. Most of the story focuses on the characters dealing with the disaster and its aftermath and observing and interacting with others doing the same. There were a lot of thoughtful little bits included, which made the read more delightful. For example the headlines from various newspapers (which will be most appreciated by Australian and British readers, I think) and comments about Australian spying in Timor-Leste.

I found Matt’s relationship with his mother both interesting, in the difficulties it added to the book, and a bit incomprehensible, with regards to her attitude. I ended up thinking about her attitude a lot and I think it comes down to this: I can understand apocalypse-denial, but not once the apocalypse is actually happening. As a child of refugees, the idea of not leaving a doomed home to save yourself when you have the ability to just baffles me. I know the mother character’s feelings are reflecting real people’s attitudes but somehow it’s even worse when shown in such an extreme situation. Anyway, that part — Matt’s interactions with his family — gave me a lot of feelings, in the way that good books often do.

This was an excellent read and I couldn’t put it down, even though I had to sleep. I highly recommend it to fans of realistic (ish) apocalypse fiction and Greg Egan’s other books. It’s a brilliant combination of character dynamics and accessible science. I really must get around to reading more Greg Egan.

5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2019, Tor.com
Series: No.
Format read: Paper ARC *gasp*
Source: Won in a Twitter competition

Thursday, 4 April 2019

#ReadShortStories (46 to 50)

The milestone of reaching 50 short stories read for the year comes just as I begin my Hugo reading, with story number fifty coming from the short story shortlist. If you would like to join me in reading the Hugo nominated fiction (or non-fiction etc) then I draw your attention to this post on File 770, which goes through the short list and directs you to where you can read/watch/listen to everything for free or, at least, read an excerpt or watch a trailer.


Internal Investigations by Naomi Alderman — This story was interesting in so far as it looked at hacking the mind/body, but not exceptionally original in doing so. It was well written enough to be enjoyable and creepy, which counts for a lot. Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00pbgrk

The Frequency of Compassion by A. Merc Rustad — There were too many very wrong throwaway statements about space/physics for me to enjoy this story. For me they overshadowed what was otherwise a nice story about an agender and neuroatypical protagonist making first contact at the edge of the solar system. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-frequency-of-compassion/

The Stars Above by Katharine Duckett — An excellent story, my favourite in the issue so far. A small Kazakhstani village returns to nomadism and living off the grid after aliens invade. The protagonist being a foreigner worked well for the outsider view and the links to family back in the US. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-stars-above/

The Things I Miss the Most by Nisi Shawl — An unexpected story essentially about a hallucination generated by a futuristic treatment for seizures. I found it touching and difficult to have a single opinion on, in a good way. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-things-i-miss-the-most/

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society by T. Kingfisher — An amusing story about the tables turning on a group of fairies who usually get their way and enjoy leaving humans to pine after them. Short and sweet. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-rose-macgregor-drinking-and-admiration-society/


Tuesday, 2 April 2019

#ReadShortStories (41 to 45)


More disabled people destroying science fiction in this batch. And a couple of flash pieces from Nature Futures.

I have been too busy using up all of my brain spoons on various things (mostly work) so these preambles might continue to be short for the foreseeable future. Feel free to leave me a comment if you actually miss them.


Birthday Girl by Rachel Swirsky — A look at how approaches to mental illness/neurodiversity in children have changed over a generation. Highlighted by comparisons between the protagonist and her young niece. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/birthday-girl/

An Open Letter to the Family by Jennifer Brozek — An epistolary story set in the far future. A woman tells her family of upcoming medical plans. It was a more interesting take than I expected from the opening paragraphs. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/an-open-letter-to-the-family/

Heavy Lifting by A. T. Greenblatt — A coder/hacker girl working with her slightly douchey friend to tack down factory robots gone rogue in a (vague) post-apocalyptic world. A fun read.  Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/heavy-lifting/

A Picture is Worth by Beth Cato — An amusing flash piece about Martians who have severe ideological differences to the human race. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00884-6

The Librarian by Robert Dawson — A flash piece about a neglected library staffed only by a robotic librarian. I got an unnecessarily bitter vibe from it, though it wasn’t exactly a bad story. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00905-4

Saturday, 30 March 2019

#ReadShortStories (36 to 40)


A mixed bag here, from flash to long novella to getting back into New Suns to starting a new (to me) issue of Uncanny. I really enjoyed "Geometries of Belonging" by Rose Lemberg and I am definitely going to read more stories set in that universe. On the other hand, I was stuck part way through "Blood and Bells" for a long time which is one reason why my progress on New Suns has been so slow of late. The book is already out so I will try to get through the last few stories quickly and get my full review written up and posted soon.


Please [redacted] My Last E-mail by Kurt Pankau — A flash in the form of an email about an earlier email that was definitely not full of factual information about a robot army. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00797-4

Geometries of Belonging by Rose Lemberg 
Although I was warned, I was still surprised at how long this story was. It’s a novelette but it must be close to the upper limit. It took me a few days of reading in short- to medium-sized bursts to get through it. But I really enjoyed it. 

The world building is quite substantial so it did take me a little bit to get fully immersed in the world, but once I did I was hooked. The attitudes of the main character are deftly used to highlight the way the world works and even allow us to learn about other countries in this world. There were significant elements of both trans and autistic (I think) experiences, though not named as such, because fantasy world. I found these were presented in a very compelling way that left much scope to empathise with the protagonist. 

I gather there are other stories set in the same world and I am now very keen to read them and plan to track down what I can. 

Blood and Bells by Karin Lowachee — This story was a slog to get into and I ended up setting it aside for quite a while. When I came back to it and read further it was more interesting (to see the actual plot develop). Gang warfare and a father trying to protect his kid in the middle of a murder investigation. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister by Silvia Moreno-Garcia — An enticing story about a witch living in a city and attempting to lead a normal life. I enjoyed the time and writing style especially. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

The House on the Moon by William Alexander — A mostly fun story but an unsubtle one. A kid with a cane on the moon, a field trip to a castle, some depressing recent (future) history. Quite readable, though the ending was a little confusing, with an element out of left field. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-house-on-the-moon/